I’m late to the party with this tag, but I thought it looked fun, and a good excuse to share my inspirations and art idols with you! The first few were easy to come up with, as they’re obviously my favs, but then there are more artists and designers on the second tier so it was tricky to pick my top 8 (which are in no particular order).
I also have idols who aren’t artists, but are inspirations for other parts of my life. Honourable mentions go to Simon and Martina (Eat Your Kimchi) for their videos, free spiritedness and general attitude to life. And Johnny Cupcakes (who I swear I’d never heard of when I decided to give my brand a cake-themed name) but has since been a big source of business inspiration and motivation – I feel like I’m always mentioning quotes from him. But this tag’s about artwork, so I’ve stuck to artists.
It’s an interesting tag to look through on Twitter and Instagram. On a lot of them, the artwork in the centre square is indistinguishable from their heroes – a lot of the artists are totally in the same league as the people they admire and are just as talented. For me, some of my heroes are an obvious influence on my work but I think it’s quite varied. But they’re all bold and/or colourful, and they’re all cute in some way.
Over the years I’ve come to really love lowbrow art and design, and art that makes you happy – it’s eye candy. I’ve come to believe that the everyday designs and patterns on items you use and have around you have a much greater significance than they’re given credit for. Not to say that fine art and deep, meaningful pieces don’t have value, but a design on a bag or notebook that resonates with you and makes you happy every day can have a much bigger influence on your life than a piece of work in a gallery that you don’t necessarily understand.
Tokidoki (Simone Legno) is my number one all-time favourite – the graphic style and bright colours are 100% the style I love and I can’t get enough Tokidoki merch. When they had a stand at MCM London I basically spent all the profits from my stall (you can see my haul below – I bought way too much!). It was actually tutorials from Tokidoki on Lynda.com that first taught me how to draw characters in Adobe Illustrator. My favourite series of characters are the Cactus Pets and Mermicornos (which I think are better than Unicornos) – and the doughnut UFOs are also a fav. But what I like most are the patterns, with so many characters densely packed on – really colourful!
There’s a great quote from Simone (from this interview) that I always try and remember when designing characters: “…if you want to make a cute character, it can’t be just a random cute dog or cat. It has to have some original concept or meaning behind it.” There’s a lot of kawaii art out there that looks really cute but lacks the originality of creating something new. So I always try and put more into my designs and characters, or mix it up somehow with something different or funny.
I was so excited to meet Simone Legno once at a trade show in the early days of Cakes with Faces – completely by surprise. I had absolutely no idea he was going to be there – I was fangirling at the Tokidoki stand (even though it was supposed to be a businessy, trade-only event) and the woman on the booth asked if I wanted to meet the designer. I showed him my designs and he said he liked All the Best Stuff is from Japan (the original white version) – kyaah! All I have is this blurry phone pic from my old 3GS:
2) Yuri Takahashi
Yuri Takahashi is a newer discovery but I just love the style of the characters. You can create your own on the app Custom Tiyoko – a character-building app where you customise your character with different colours, accessories, outfits and backgrounds. No matter what you do it looks amazing – and it’s free on Apple and Android. I’ve got a Tiyoko I created as the wallpaper on my PC at the moment. I always wish I was better at drawing people – this very Japanese graphic style is just perfect:
3) Heidi Kenney
Heidi Kenney is a character artist, pattern designer and all-round creative powerhouse. She’s best known for the Yummy World series – which is now owned by Kidrobot. She’s a master of food and things with faces!
Perhaps more than her artwork itself, what I find inspiring about Heidi is the way she lives a life so full of arts and crafts, and what she loves. I love reading her blog My Paper Crane – she’s always going on inspirational days out, crafting so many different things and collecting kitsch designs she loves (her house must be so full of stuff!). I’d love to go to one of her crafternoons, where her friends get together to craft and eat cakes and yummy treats – they look so much fun and I just love the whole idea of a “crafternoon”!
She’s also a complete machine with her Plush of the Month Club, making literally hundreds of plushies with faces by hand every month, with themed packaging and accessories for her subscribers. I don’t know how she does it!
Yoh is the artist of the manga in the middle of Gothic Lolita Bible and Yoh’s Monochrome World, known for black and white line art of elegant, doll-like girls wearing lolita fashion, with a gothic feel and dark imagery. The illustration has a kind of seventies look to it, which isn’t usually something I’m a fan of, but I love the look of the large eyes and huge eyelashes. It’s really intricate, almost like a historic engraving. Again, I wish I could draw people better!!
5) Chima Group
Although I don’t really know that much about them, I started getting interested in vinyl figures and toys at about the time I started Cakes with Faces. With a graphic style that doesn’t look childish, there’s something really cool about them, and it became a dream of mine to have my own series of figures. Chima Group’s figures are just 100% cute. They’re so simple and also somehow completely adorable! I also really like the crab ones (because my second name is Crabtree).
6) Bryan Lee O’Malley
Bryan Lee O’Malley is the artist/writer of Scott Pilgrim, Seconds and the writer of Snotgirl – all of which I love! The Scott Pilgrim series is what made me want to write a comic book myself, which prompted me to write my How to Make Sushi Comic. The style also made me want to learn how to draw with ink and a brush – something I’ve never managed to master! The characters in Scott Pilgrim are just so cool, and I love how it’s presented. And the books are just such a colourful collection.
I went to a talk with Bryan Lee O’Malley at the British Library in London, just after Seconds came out. In the Q&A, people were asking really in-depth questions about why things were drawn a certain way, or how much he zooms in when he’s drawing – and the answer was often “because it seemed right”, which makes complete sense to me! Drawing is an intuitive thing, and you can’t always explain the reasons why you did something.
7) Mizna Wada
Mizna Wada is an illustrator who does small, simple black and white character drawings with a gothic/Halloween feel. You might not believe it now, but there was a time when I used to be really into gothic, Tim Burton style and always wore black – before I became super colourful and decided to focus on super-happy things. I guess a part of that’s still in me because I love the style of these characters, with their big eyes, spiky eyelashes, pointy teeth and batwings. The style of her website’s super-cool too (animated gifs are awesome!).
I love cute and colourful, and that’s the style of Caramelaw’s hyper kawaii graphic art, with huge sparkling eyes and exaggerated dimensions. If you look on her Instagram she also makes a lot of custom dolls, which isn’t something I’m into, but the designs on them are really creative and I love the whole look of her artwork.
If you like my designs, take a look at my t-shirts, hoodies, dresses and products in the shop. They’re all my original artwork, only available here and on Etsy. My aim is to make colourful designs to brighten up your every day life and make you smile. If I’ve done that – mission accomplished!